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Issue #1749      September 21, 2016

NSW Libs to privatise more hospitals

The Baird Liberal government in NSW has announced plans to privatise five of the state’s public hospitals, at Maitland, Wyong, Goulburn, Shellharbour and Bowral. The excuse, of course, is that they all need infusions of capital and the state does not have sufficient funds to do that. So private operators have been invited to “partner” with the government in building/upgrading and running the hospitals.

The embattled NSW Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, who must by now be growing tired of defending her scandal-ridden portfolio, made the extraordinary claim that the privatisations would “ensure the sustainability of the health system”.

The Liberal Party of course is wholly committed to the private enterprise system and sees the role of government as managing or allocating a range of business opportunities. For NSW Premier Mike Baird and federal PM Malcolm Turnbull, health care is simply yet another business opportunity.

The people of NSW, however, see the matter differently. For them, health care is something that every citizen has a right to. In fact, every citizen has a right not just to any health care but to the best that society can provide, regardless of the patient’s income or social status. In the recent federal election, defence of Medicare became a hot issue and Libs’ leader Malcolm Turnbull had strenuously to distance his government from the suggestion that he wanted to take Australia down the path of a hideously expensive US-style private health system.

But now Liberal Premier Mike Baird is doing just that. Significantly, as the NSW Labor opposition pointed out, although this privatisation plan must have been in the planning stages for a long time, there was not a murmur about it at the time of the state or federal elections, because the Libs know it would have cost them seats all over the state. The public would not have been fooled by mendacious statements by Ministers, such as Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s “Partnering with non-government hospital operators will allow us to maintain quality health care while delivering the best value.”

There is no doubt that the five hospitals need money spent on them. The NSW government, like its federal counterpart, has flogged off state enterprises while simultaneously cutting corporate taxes and charges, and hence reduced government income substantially. It is standard practice for Liberal Party treasurers to then wring their hands while mournfully proclaiming that the government can no longer afford to pay pensions, or health care costs, or for scientific research or environmental protection or a hundred other public services that a rational society would regard as essential.

A cynic might argue that the Baird government has allowed these hospitals to run down precisely so that the public would be more receptive to the idea of handing them over to the private sector, but actually the truth is simply that Liberal Party leaders, like the capitalists they admire and emulate, resent any money that is spent on public services, regarding it as money that rightfully belongs to “investors” and should be returned to them so they can use it to make profits, which is the only role of money in their opinion.

To counter the very real perception on the part of the public that privately-run hospitals will be a lot more expensive than government-run hospitals, the Baird government has announced a model, the Northern Beaches Hospital at Manly due to open in 2018. Here, the NSW government will pay the operators, Healthscope, “to treat public alongside private patients”.

Which means the government will pay not what it actually costs to treat a patient in a public hospital, but what the operators of a private hospital choose to charge the government for such treatment!

On the NSW Central Coast, nurses I spoke to had no doubts about the higher costs of hospital care under this scheme and anticipated a flight of patients from the now-to-be-privatised Wyong Hospital to the remaining public hospital on the Coast. Gosford is already bursting at the seams. Wyong Hospital was to have been expanded and renovated to allow it to take pressure off Gosford, but the state government now says it can’t afford to do so. Only a private investor can afford it, apparently.

Twenty years ago NSW tried out the public/private partnership operation of a former public hospital, Port Macquarie Base Hospital, in the face of intense public opposition. Two decades of complaints and debacles later, the NSW government had to buy the hospital back from the operators.

So even when they fail to make a go of it as a business, a grateful government will bail them out. No wonder “health care” corporations are queuing up to get involved in these “public/private partnerships” where the only losers will be the people of NSW!

Next article – Airport strikes intensify

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